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How to be a good disability ally

Courtesy: Holly blog - LIFE OF A BLIND GIRL 

 

Honestly; screen readers and the internet were the 2 best things invented after sliced bread. However, I can put sliced pizza on that list too! This post is a subject that I wanted to write about for a long, long time but the forces of life and time have really given me enough of challenges to deal with. From engaging on social media, advocating accessibility and creating awareness on assistive technology I have been up the hill so many times sometimes it just gets me tired. I do have a social life which I try to balance along all this and lately due to the pandemic I don't see much of that happening as it was earlier.

Holly and I met on YouTube; she runs a channel mainly talking about disability and her life. Very interesting as I wanted to know how a person with a visual impairment/ print disability of the opposite gender goes about addressing their challenges due to their limitation. I will write more about that in some other post in the interest of time and the subject of this post let's understand on "How to be a good disability ally". Views expressed in this post are mostly by Holly with my additional thoughts.

 

Ally: Allyship is about lifting each other up, supporting others and playing your part in creating change. I’m not talking about huge changes; small changes can sometimes mean the most. There are steps we can all take to be an ally.

One of the steps that is crucial to moving forward in creating a world that’s inclusive and accessible for everyone is being a good ally. We can all be an ally in one way or another. I spend a lot of my time educating people on disability – both in my day job, as well as on social media.

I find myself slipping into educational mode when I’m out and about, when curious strangers ask me questions about my vision impairment. I know many brilliant disability allies that do not have a disability. They all have a few things in common: they listen, take note, they use their voice when needed and they always consider disabled people. They aren’t afraid to tackle misconceptions or educate others. Their conscious effort doesn’t go unnoticed. Can we have more of that please?

 

Here are some ways in which you can be a good disability ally:

 

1. Treat disabled people the same way you treat everyone else

I’d say that this is the first step in being a good disability ally, and one of the most important things you can do. In order to achieve the rest, treating us with respect is a given.

There’s no need for you to speak to us any differently to others. You don’t need to shout at us or speak to us like we’re a child. And one that bugs me the most: speak to us, rather than the person we’re with. I can’t tell you how belittled I feel when someone speaks to my friend or family member, when they can speak to me directly.

If you think a disabled person needs help or assistance, then ask. Don’t be offended if we say no – we know best.

If a disabled person does take your offer of assistance, it’s important to ask what they’d like you to do, and how you can help. Don’t jump in and grab their arm and drag them across the road for example.

We know that these acts of assistance come from a good place because people genuinely want to help, but think about how it makes us feel.

More often than not, we are more than capable going about our days independently. However, there are some times when we’re grateful for some help. Let us make these decisions. We’re not saying no to come across as rude, we are simply okay doing whatever it is on our own. Disabled people are independent. Please don’t take that independence away from us.

 

2. Educate yourself

Take the time to learn about various disabilities. Educate yourself on the various models of disability. Learn about the societal barriers we face. Gain a deeper understanding of accessibility and why it truly matters.

There’s a ton of resources out there – from blogs, podcasts, social media and books written by disabled people.

Don’t stop learning!

Remember it’s not solely down to disabled people to educate others. There are resources right at your fingertips so take it upon yourself to learn. Source as much information as you can. If you get stuck, reach out and ask. However, please remember that we don’t have the time or energy to educate every individual person. Find the line between searching for the resources yourself and reaching out.

As a disabled person myself, I’m always learning, always trying to stay educated and informed, and always trying to do better.

 

3. Think about the language you use

Language is key. It plays an important part in everything we do. Just like many other things in our lives, there is preferred terminology when it comes to disability. If someone asks you to use a specific word or phrase, be mindful of that. Respect their preferences.

You don’t need to skirt around the edges. Trust me, it makes for an unpleasant experience for everyone. Don’t be afraid to say the word “disabled”. Say it with pride, and say it with confidence.

There’s of course terminology you should avoid when talking about disability as well. For example, using phrases such as ‘wheelchair bound’, ‘crippled’ or ‘special needs’.

 

4. Listen to us

Disabled people’s voices can often go unheard or unnoticed. We regularly feel ignored and misunderstood. By taking the time to listen to what we have to say, you are giving us a voice.

Don’t jump in and take over. Instead, let us finish what we’re saying first.

If we’re giving you instructions on how to help us with something, don’t assume that you can do it your own way.

Remember that disabled people know best – we are the ones living with our disabilities and chronic illnesses every single day. When you listen to us, take note of what we’re saying and if you can, act on it.

Never speak over us. Don’t speak for us either.

 

5. Be a disability advocate

You don’t have to identify as disabled to advocate on areas such as disability rights and accessibility. You can speak up, share our content and educate other people.

If a document isn’t accessible, let the sender know. If a building isn’t accessible, speak up. If there’s a trending disability issue, use your platforms. If someone says something that’s ableist, correct and inform them. Don’t stay silent. Don’t be afraid to use your voice.

Listen to us and take our lead.

We don’t expect you to know everything. All we ask is for you to show your support where you can. We’re stronger together.

 

6. Amplify our content

There are lots of disabled people using their digital/ social media platforms to educate others and change perceptions. We do this because we want to share our experiences, raise awareness and help to make the world more accessible and inclusive for everyone.

Opening yourself up to the world can be scary at times, it isn’t for everyone. There’s no obligation to do this simply for being a disabled person. But those of us that use our platforms in this way all have our own reasons for doing so.

It takes a matter of seconds to retweet a tweet or share a post, something that we appreciate more than you know. It’s more than a simple like or share – it’s lifting our voices and it’s showing your support. You’re actively educating yourself and others. By doing that, you’re making a difference.

 

7. Think about accessibility in everything you do

Accessibility should be an integral part of your life. From making documents accessible, asking a business why they don’t have a ramp, to adding image descriptions to photos of your pets that you’re sharing on social media, accessibility should be part of both your online and offline presence. Whether you’re directly benefited by accessibility or not, it should always be a primary focus. Educate others on accessibility.

You don’t have to have a reason to make your content accessible, it should be something you always do regardless of the situation.

I see lots of people making a conscious effort to make their professional content accessible, but their personal content is the opposite. Accessibility should be part of both your personal and professional lives.

 

Being a disability ally doesn’t mean that you are an expert. it means actively listening to us, showing your support and educating others. We can all do our part to be a good disability ally. I promise you, your support really does make a difference.

P.S. You can be an ally to any cause not just disability, so the tips in this post have cross functional value. Remember at the end of the day, we are all human, have limitations and are constantly trying to overcome them by seeking support or educating ourselves with new skills.

Start by being a disability ally; visit Point 6 and share this post with your networks! You can also share your thoughts and comments below


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